The Whingers are rarely offered owt fer nowt. But when it happens they are scrupulous about declaring their freebies.
Mind you, They have never had the luxury of having their swimming pools or moats freshened for nothing. Nor have they ever claimed for their ratcatchers or helipads. They guarantee that all maintenance of their drawbridges has come directly from their own pockets. They can’t even recall ever having owned (let alone sat on) a glittery loo seat although they may have occupied the occasional pouffe. But they would definitely sit in the stalls and chomp through their Maltesers at the taxpayers expense – given half a chance.
And we’re told we produce enough manure as it is without needing more of it for free.
So anyway it was a rare treat when the surely misguided people behind Jeff Harnar’s American Songbook in London invited the Whingers to see Two Birds And A Bloke at Pizza on the Park for free, gratis, like critics. Mind you, we paid for our own pizza and wine so we might as well have paid top whack for Priscilla.
Our dreams of “special guest” status were quickly punctured when we found ourselves placed at a table at the back. Andrew did some half-hearted moaning about not being able to see very well but it turned out to be this table or one behind a big plant. It turned out to be something of a blessing.
To be honest the Whingers were really looking forward to a break from plays and this “musical revue with a satirical and magical twist”sounded just what the doctor ordered for two jaded, under-entertained brains.
Two Birds And A Bloke is basically a double act consisting of former Fascinating Aida artiste Issy Van Randwyck and composer/musician/magician Simon Slater; a measure of the level of humour is that they put the title of the show down to the fact that they’re not very good at maths…
At the piano is the well-known West End MD Jae Alexander (to whom does he owe a very big favour?) and on double bass is the multi-talented fight arranger Robin Colyer (who can apparently also juggle balls, clubs and fire but sadly doesn’t) and the whole misguided thing is helmed by Shakespearean director Ed Hall (son of Sir Peter, husband of IVR) with an MD credit for the Tony-winning Sarah Travis.
There are some self-penned songs, some sketches (one, we were assured by a table-mate, borrowed from Joyce Grenfell) and a bit of close-up magic from Simon Slater. Well, it’s close-up if you’re sitting at the front. From the Whingers’ table at the back of the room much of it was obscured by peoples’ heads and there seemed to be very little magic going on. He performs part of the act on a low table which was out of the Whingers’ sight lines. Phil offers a little trick that Mr Slater should practise: crouch down so your eye level is at the level of the trick you’re performing. Look out into the audience from this level. If you can’t see all the faces of your audience then some of them won’t be able to see your trick. Modify trick accordingly.
Slater made a big point that he knew many of the people in the packed audience and had a job finding someone from the audience to assist in his tricks. But even the woman selected came from a table of his showbiz chums. But a rather suggestive ad lib by her produced one of the few real laughs of the night.
Many of the songs are bizarre semi-double entendre (single entendre? No. More “don’t entendre at all”) numbers – one from a woman whose husband demands a piece of pizza from her every night! Imagine! Another was from a man who lost his little yo yo and is worried what his wife will have to say on the matter. Putting the name of a politician into a song (“Cheer up Gordon Brown”) seemed to pass for satire and some of it (“Big Black Drag Queen In The Sky”) seemed totally inaccessible no matter how you tried to approach it.
We never thought we’d utter these words but the highlight of the night was possibly the clog dance. Of course, we’re only guessing because we couldn’t actually see the clogs from where we were sitting. Still, Tulips from Amsterdam sung in Dutch has its charms.
The satirical songs seem dated and are badly in need of some up to the minute and funny topical references. This was hardly That Was The Week That Was though most of the satire felt like it had been penned at around that time.
The reference to Jordan could have been updated given the news of her marital break up. And who still calls Katie Price Jordan? By now the Whingers were tuning in only occasionally so perhaps it was a reference to the country? The Whingers were past caring and never has so much mozarella been so scraped off two plates so fastidiously over 75 miutes.
IVR is an interesting looking woman – something of a cross between Ingrid Bergman and Rene Zellweger with Sandi Toksvig rising (unfortunately not rising enough) and there’s no doubt she can sing well but for an alumnus of Fascinating Aida her comedy is (how shall we put this politely?) surprisingly un-honed.
Whatever the cause of the split she really should be banging on the door of Fascinating Aida begging to be readmitted to an act that actually has material.
In fact, all six of the individually highly talented individuals should go off and get on with their own things because there is clearly no point in them all collaborating on this. As someone close to the show was heard to remark later, “It looked good on paper”.
We shall say no more. Indeed, no more needs to be said than this: the only moment which had the whole of the Whingers’ table nodding in approval was Slater’s banjolele rendition of George Formby’s Fanlight Fanny (the frowsy nightclub queen). Could it really be true that Phil’s failing memory was recalling Sandy Powell perform it in a panto back when the old King was still alive? Who can say.
So, we have to assume that our brief access to freebies is over before we even got a chance to get Phil’s moat sorted. Never mind, here is George Formby performing Fanlight Fanny: